One feels wholly unwelcome walking down this street in Barangay Don Manuel in Quezon City. Tall, fortress-like concrete walls topped by barbed wire and electrified barriers line both sides of the road, protecting unseen houses from prying eyes and intruders. Driveways and drop-offs are invisible, hidden behind heavy-duty steel gates. Trees and plants are almost nonexistent. There is the occasional clump of weeds growing out of a crack between the sidewalk and the street, and the electric posts that interrupt one’s path on the pavement.
Judging from the cars that come out of the gates, the neighborhood is well to do. And based on the roofs and the second or third-story façades peering over their concrete face shields, the predominant architecture in the area is contemporary Mediterranean and Chinese. The structures are crammed edge to edge on narrow lots, making one wonder how their inhabitants breathe.
Designing an open house at this site was a new challenge for principals Bermejo and partner Benjee Mendoza, which has made a fine practice of designing tropical homes on large lots in verdant valleys with tree-lined streets. But, BAAD Studio has succeeded in creating an oasis of good looks in the middle of this featureless, unfriendly, and ultra-defensive environment.
Façade as gate
Instead of designing a beautiful house and hiding it behind a wall, BAAD created a handsome steel mesh and wood façade, which serves as a three-story ‘gate’ for the home. Opening this façade on the ground floor leads one down a driveway to basement parking. A flight of steps takes alighting passengers up to the living room.
The upper two-thirds of the façade is made with stainless steel wire cloth. It sounds terribly unfriendly, but juxtaposed with the warm brown wood below, the composition is handsome and so much more attractive than its latex-painted concrete neighbors. Louvers made of the same wire cloth emphasize the building’s height and break up the sun’s rays, just as a proper brise soleil should. The louvers provide privacy for the living spaces behind it without hampering ventilation.
Meanwhile, a discreet ‘notch’ on the right side of the façade-gate hides a door. The door opens to a vestibule where a metal Arturo Luz sculpture salutes visitors. From here, one can see, to the left, the driveway descending into the basement. Narrow slits on the gate let light and air pierce through this shadowy space, which feels like a cooling cocoon, coming in from the baking concrete outside. These narrow slits, we later discover, play an essential role in the home’s cross-ventilation.
It is the first such entrance to a home that we have experienced. The vestibule is a transition space that completely shuts out the world outside and, with the sculpture, it tells us about the owners whose home we are about to enter.
To get inside the house from the vestibule, one pushes against the 2.8 by 1.8-meter-wide hardwood front door. On entry, one sees almost the entire length of the ground floor, a 6.87 by 30-meter space, from the living room all the way to the designer kitchen at the end.
Since there is nothing beautiful to look at outside the home, BAAD created a courtyard inside the property, dividing the open house into two elegant, interlinked volumes: the front wing, which holds the living and dining areas on the ground floor, the master bedroom on the second floor, a study and yoga room on the third; and the rear wing, which houses the kitchen on the ground floor, two bedrooms on the second and third floors, and the laundry area on the roof deck.
Wellness through biophilia
We asked Bermejo and Mendoza what core values shape BAAD Studio’s designs. Their immediate answer was wellness, by bringing nature and reminders of nature into the architecture.
The earthy tones, timber flooring, pebble garden, and the raw adobe-clad walls were all chosen to create an intimate and natural ambiance. BAAD looks out too for furniture pieces with organic forms and materials, as well as small details such as employing leather door handles—everything must add up to the feeling of pleasure in being at home, says Mendoza.
“The amount of light, amount of air, and touch values such as the softness and roughness of materials, the robustness, and textures of the walls and floors—all these things put us in touch with nature and make us feel more human,” Bermejo explains.
Form follows openness
BAAD Studio has created an enclosed open house. Concerns about security and privacy have led to a design that protects the home on all four sides. The permeability of two sides allows air to travel horizontally, while the courtyard creates air circulation by convection.
This open house will shape the family in unique ways. It tells them they are safe, and they belong together. Inside this enclosed house, they will enjoy open spaces, allowing them to see each other but keep their privacy when needed; blessing them with open skies when they want to feel the sun and see the stars, but protecting them from Manila’s tropical heat and calamitous rains. And as BAAD Studio hopes, despite being closed off from the world, this house will promote wellness and nudge each member of the family to enjoy nature, whether they realize it or not.
This article first appeared on BluPrint Volume 3 2019. Edits were made for BluPrint online.
Photographed by Ed Simon